Trump has two towers in Istanbul. In December 2015, his local partner explored legal means to take Trump’s name off the towers after the Orange Overlord called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In June, Turkish President Erdogan reportedly called for the removal of the Trump name from the towers.
But things have changed. The Economist reports that:
Mr. Erdogan appears to have changed his mind, both about the towers and about the man whose name appears on them. Although polls show that most Turks would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton as America’s new president, Mr. Trump’s election has been greeted in Ankara with a mix of schadenfreude and hope.
In fact, Erdogan has called US protests against Mr. Trump’s election “a disrespect to democracy”. The Economist says that Trump reportedly told Mr. Erdogan over the phone that his daughter, Ivanka, admired him, and flattery works all over the world.
Erdogan thinks that our Orange Overlord may be more amenable to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt in July. Since July, Turkey has pressed the Obama administration to extradite Mr. Gulen. The Turks felt sure that Hillary Clinton would not extradite him, since her campaign accepted donations from his followers.
In November, Trump’s National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn, strongly supported Turkish President Erdogan in an op-ed at The Hill, suggesting that Erdogan is under siege by “radical Islam” and desperately needs our help. Flynn said:
The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.
Flynn also seemed to dismiss Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissidents and the dubious circumstances of the attempted coup which allowed Erdogan to solidify his power. So let’s review Erdogan’s actions since July:
- Turkey now has outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. In addition, 150 news outlets have been closed, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises.
- Erdogan has suspended or fired 110,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, journalists and soldiers. This has gutted the educated middle class of Turkey.
- He has restarted an internal war with Kurds in Eastern Turkey, and has arrested the leadership of the Kurdish minority HDP party, which got more than 10% of seats in the last election.
- He has sent the Turkish Army into Syria in what was first described as border defense against ISIS (a group he has long supported), but it has been revealed that his plan is to reach central Syria and depose Bashar Assad.
- The EU has suspended negotiations for Turkish membership for civil rights backsliding, but not before they gave Turkey €6 billion to stop sending refugees into the EU.
- Erdogan has threatened to reopen the flow of refugees if the EU doesn’t agree to further Turkey’s application to join. Opening the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU, and thus, to NATO.
Trump is holding a tough hand while playing poker with Turkey. As a NATO member with the largest standing army in Europe, Turkey occupies an important place in NATO’s strategy. Trump has to balance Turkey’s support for the mutual defense of Europe against Turkey’s intentions to go one-on-one against Syria.
He has to balance the shaky EU refugee deal with Turkey against Erdogan’s effort to engage militarily against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Iraq and Syria who are allied with the US against ISIS.
Erdogan has made an overture towards Russia and China. A link with them would destabilize NATO even further. Erdogan seems to be testing Trump’s resolve and his commitment to NATO at the same time. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to garner some good old American baksheesh, so he’s putting a foot in the water to see if it’s comfortable enough to dive in.
That may be a poor play, since while Trump may be sympathetic to Turkish concerns about Mr. Gulen, the cleric’s fate rests with America’s courts. Meanwhile, The Economist reports that Trump’s team wants to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, and continue arming the PKK’s Syrian wing against ISIS.
Erdogan opposes all of these measures vehemently.
Some of Trump’s new team are not fans of Erdogan. In a tweet, Trump’s CIA-designate, Mike Pompeo, called Turkey an “Islamist dictatorship”.
Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump show certain similarities. Both are busy recasting and ruining their countries at the same time.
Let’s hope it doesn’t last.